Armenia-set film "Here" opens in U.S.
Published: Friday April 27, 2012
New York - "Here" premiered at the 2011 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals and has gone on to screen throughout the world. A live installation version of the project, HERE [THE STORY SLEEPS], premiered at The Museum of Modern Art in 2010, travelled to Mass MoCA and was mounted at the 2011 Sundance and Houston Cinema Arts Festivals.
Q: Tell us about the journey that brought you HERE.
A: It's been a long and winding road. Lately I've been comparing the process to archaeology. Most films come about in a more architectural way. A filmmaker has an idea that he or she wants to realize, sketches it out and builds it. HERE was more of an expedition into the unknown. I was following the breadcrumbs, looking for clues. I started pulling this string many years ago, and it eventually led me to these characters, this story and to Armenia itself. It's been an expanding, satisfying, mysterious journey. In many ways, the film is a document of that process.
Q: HERE is opening in all these cities with significant Armenian populations in the same month as Armenians all over the world are commemorating the Armenian Genocide. However, HERE is not about the Armenian past. HERE is about today's Armenia. It is about the ordinary people and two main characters, Will (Ben Foster) and Gadarine (Lubna Azabal), whose story begins and develops on the roads of Armenia, against the gorgeous landscape of the country. It is an interesting coincidence that the U.S. premieres are in April, isn't it?
A: It is. This film has always worked in mysterious ways. HERE somewhat studiously avoids direct political commentary, but the occupation of the American mapmaker, Will Shepard, can never truly be an apolitical act. Any time you're drawing a line on a map, you're changing the world - for better or for worse.
There is a kind of freedom from history that Will's traveling partner, Gadarine Najarian, represents. She's very interested in the NOW, and yet she discovers that there are these deep roots and traditions that run deeply, if unconsciously, through her. The film asks questions about how we can exist in a way that's liberated from history and tradition while simultaneously appreciating it, acknowledging it and paying tribute to it. I'm not Armenian, but I think these themes are universal - they exist to one degree or another in every culture, every family, in all of us.
Q: During your opening remarks at the NYC premiere you explained that the open space left in the frame of the film was there on purpose, for the viewer to explore and use that space. Also, during one of our conversations several months ago, you told me about the triangles that you created with the characters. Tell us more about the space and the shapes you have created within the frame of the film.
A: Films are not only about the stories they tell. There is a lot of space within these images but there is also a lot of space within the experience of HERE for the viewer to wander around in, on their own. I wanted to make a film that would allow a viewer to inhabit it, not just watch it. That is kind of a big ask for some viewers. The characters are almost silently saying, "Come. Join us. You don't have to just sit back and watch." The people who are most affected by the film seem to be able to say yes to that proposition. I definitely encourage viewers to let Will and Gadarine wander off on their own every once in a while and to just explore these images, aside from the story, in their own time and in their own way.
In terms of the triangulation you're asking about - that's a mapping term and practice that goes back to geometry. If you know the length of two sides of a right triangle you can calculate the third via the Pythagorean Theorem. But I don't think this idea only applies to mathematics. We do this kind of thing in so many different ways in our lives. Our relationships and experiences are like points on a map - we use them to orient ourselves and to measure and make sense of our world. We thought about this kind of thing a lot when writing the film. How do we map our existence? What is the distance between A and B? How do I get there? With who?
Q: In the film, I see Armenia as a country of breathtaking landscapes and kind people, who are happy to share their food and homemade vodka with strangers passing by. However, some acquaintances of mine were unhappy with the images of Armenians as poor and constantly drinking. They expected to see Armenia at its best and interpreted the images in the film as anything but. How did you see Armenia and Armenians?
A: I can understand the desire to see Armenia portrayed as one might wish it to be, to only point the camera at the new Northern Boulevard in Yerevan and to avoid less "developed" locations. But that's simply not the truth on the ground. Almost everything you see in HERE is real. There are very few sets - perhaps one, actually. Many of the characters are played by non-actors. The script is based on extensive research and travel that took place from 2004 - 2009. In some respects the film can be seen as a documentary with a fictional narrative mapped on to it - at least in its portrayal of the landscape and locations circa 2009, when it was shot.